Airport layovers are, frankly, the pits – loud, people rushing everywhere, and no place comfortable to sit – and Chicago O’Hare (ORD) is no exception. As the sixth-busiest airport in the world, Chicago O’Hare herds nearly 80 million passengers to and from flights. Busy summer flying seasons (or winter storms) often mean delays – and could translate into hours at an airport. So, what to do at Chicago airport if you are stuck there for a few hours?
I recently had a couple of spare hours between flight connections at Chicago and found one great insider place to hang out. SSSHHHH, don’t tell anybody! On a busy travel Friday evening in June, this secret little corner was peaceful, quiet, with tables to spare and a few things to see. When I later asked a woman at the information table why it wasn’t marked on the terminal map, she even said, “Why? Then it wouldn’t be as nice.”
The secret about what to do and what to see at Chicago airport
First, just head to the so-called Rotunda (printable airport maps are here, as well as an interactive one).
This is a circular crossroads area at the closest end of the G gates in Terminal 3 but right where it meets Terminal 2. It is not signed as “Rotunda” but if you head toward Gates G1 or G2, it will be right there.
Once there, head up the stairs (or take the elevator) to the mezzanine.
You have arrived. Really, it’s that easy.
>> You will be awestruck by the large Aeroponic Garden, the first such garden at any airport in the world in fact. Aeroponics does not use soil; rather, plants are growing out of towers with their roots suspended in the dark chambers. At the ORD Chicago airport, you can see herbs, vegetables and lettuces growing. There is also plenty of signage to find out more about the garden and how it grows.
>> There is also a small Yoga Room where you can grab a mat and stretch or meditate.
>> This is also where the USO is for military personnel and their families.
>> And there is a Mother’s Room for nursing or caring for children. (There are actually Mother’s Rooms in every terminal if you need to find one closer.
There are large windows so you can watch planes coming and going, a good number of tables against the walls (many were in fact empty when I was there), and the area is carpeted so it’s quieter. Some families were just sitting on the floor – not something you would want to do in the main terminals where so many feet are passing by and over. The only disadvantage: There didn’t seem to be any electrical outlets so if you require charging for your devices or computer you’ll need to find an airport charging station. Free airport Wi-Fi was working well too.
How to arrive at the Rotunda
The terminals at ORD Chicago O’Hare are connected by walkways as well as a transportation network. If you have time and are able, however, walking is great and Terminals 1, 2 and 3 are not that far apart. The walking exception is Terminal 5, the international terminal, which is in a separate building. Unless you have a number of hours, I would not recommend making the trek, unfortunately.
Where to eat or imbibe at Chicago airport
Of course, there are all the typical meal options in a food court and other restaurants here and there, including some outlets of local Chicago places like The Berghoff. In the Rotunda is a Farmer’s Market, too. But if all you seek is a comfy place, some munchies, and a beverage in a place that doesn’t feel like a cafeteria, do what the local commuters do and head to Bubbles Wine Bar, also in Terminal 3, at Gate H4, at the V-intersection where the H and K gates intersect. Nice wines and bubblies, small plates, and even a piano playing tunes, leaving you feeling like you are at an upscale bistro and not a stressful airport. Across the alcove is a small branch of the local chocolatier Vosges Haut-Chocolat (there is another in Terminal 1 at Gate B6). Get lucky and you may snag a sample!
With these insider tips about what to do at Chicago airport and what to see at Chicago airport when passing through O’Hare, you can actually look forward to an airport layover!